Bulls

Cubs, Jackson will live with the ups and downs

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Cubs, Jackson will live with the ups and downs

SAN DIEGO The last time the Cubs were at Petco Park, chairman Tom Ricketts was still gathering information for a decision that could define his familys legacy as owners of this marquee franchise.

On the final day of the 2011 season, Ricketts agreed to an interview with the beat writers. He was vague about the executive search that would end with Theo Epstein who would be universally praised as a home-run hire but he did talk about expectations.

Ricketts stood in the visiting dugout and pointed to the worst-to-first Arizona Diamondbacks as an example.

One thing youve seen in baseball over the last few years is that turnarounds can happen pretty quickly, Ricketts said last September. I dont think its meaningful to describe a year as a rebuilding year or a reloading year or any of that.

You get the right players on the team and they all stay healthy and they play hard, the team can go from 70 wins to 90 wins. It happens pretty frequently.

Things turn around fast. Thats the way we look at it for next year.

Epstein has flipped the roster since taking over at Clark and Addison, but the Cubs (43-64) long ago braced for the growing pains and have now decided that its no longer about wins and losses.

There are 55 games left after Mondays 2-0 loss to the San Diego Padres, and that space will essentially become a laboratory. There will be nights where Brett Jackson goes 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.

Thats just where we are in the organization, manager Dale Sveum said. We knew going in there was a good chance this was going to happen and that day has come.

Now we get to develop at the big-league level the Brett Jacksons, the (Josh) Vitters, the (Alberto) Cabreras, the (Brooks) Raleys, Travis Woods. All these guys its time to develop and take those extra steps to be a major-league player on an everyday basis.

The day after going 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in his major-league debut at Dodger Stadium, Jackson had to answer questions about the one part of his game that didnt look ready at Triple-A Iowa.

Thats the nature of the business, Jackson said. Its never fun to strike out four times. Thats something Im working on cutting down. Im going to keep working with (hitting coach James Rowson) and Dale and improving the swing. Theres no doubt in my mind were going to get the ability out of me.

The Cubs like Jacksons overall game enough the speed, the athleticism, the power that they promoted him after 158 strikeouts in 407 at-bats with Iowa.

Hes going to be in there, Sveum said. That was part of the deal. Hes going to be here to develop and make adjustments. But bottom line, it doesnt matter if youre not swinging at strikes.

This isnt to single out Jackson, who is one of several players with something to prove between now and Oct. 3.

Raley will be the 15th rookie the Cubs have used this season when he debuts on Tuesday night at Petco Park. This is a spot start in place of Matt Garza, whose stiff right elbow wont allow him to pick up a ball for at least two weeks and leaves him in the limbo of being reevaluated each homestand.

Trades and attrition have wiped out the pitching depth Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer built up last winter. Jeff Samardzija whos already blown past the innings total he reached last season as a reliever now has the most stature in the rotation in his first year as a big-league starter.

Wood (4-8, 4.77 ERA) who limited the Padres (47-64) to two runs across six innings is one of four starting pitchers who have spent time on the Triple-A level this season.

Were a very young team, but I think we can use that to our favor, Wood said. Were energetic. We got fire. We just need to start playing and get after it.

On Sept. 28, 2011, Mike Quade sat in the managers office and Hoyer was the Padres general manager who had made Anthony Rizzo the face of the future in San Diego. That day, Ryan Dempster gave up nine runs and lost his 14th game and Rizzo went 0-for-3 and finished with a .141 batting average.

The Cubs stuck around in the clubhouse afterward and pulled beers from the cooler, watching the fantastic finishes on side-by-side televisions, the Boston Red Sox in agony and the Tampa Bay Rays in celebration.

Epstein has total control over baseball operations, and a mandate to build this team from within. At this stage, players like Jackson are going to find out what theyre made of, while the Cubs live with all the ups and downs.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.

Drilling further down on Matt Nagy after Bears OT loss to Miami Dolphins

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USA TODAY

Drilling further down on Matt Nagy after Bears OT loss to Miami Dolphins

The 31-28 overtime Bears loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday had myriad authors on the Chicago side of the ledger. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky correctly assessed the defeat as a team loss, which is pretty much the case in any NFL loss, but particularly so in this case.

“Growing pains” only goes so far in explaining the variety of problems that befell all three Bears phases in the heat of south Florida. And while devastating mistakes are inevitable for young, inexperienced head coaches and players, it falls to those coaches and players to demonstrate that Sunday in Hard Rock Stadium was an anomaly.

Because after five 2018 games, it is not clear that the Miami missteps are indeed exceptions, on the parts of players or coaches, both in fact. Regardless of whether the fault lies with offense or defense (special teams get a pass; Sunday should never come down to Cody Parkey needing to make a field goal from 53 yards).

The Bears have gone into four 2018 fourth quarters with leads and lost two of those games. The late-game defensive collapses at Green Bay and Miami should suffice to put a sock in mentions of the ’85 Bears defense and the ’18 iteration in the same conversation.

And the fact that the Bears offense has not scored more than 7 points in any of the five 2018 fourth quarters says that more than just the defense lacks a consistent finishing kick.

Coaching not to lose?

There is a fourth “phase,” and not the one (fans) that Lovie Smith once cited. It is coaching, which is intricately interwoven with each of the three main units but is its own phase. How well this fourth phase performed in Miami is a matter of some hazy perspectives.

“I’m a big boy; I can handle criticism,” Nagy said Monday. “You talking about the 53-yard field goal? No, I’m fine with that. I have no issue at all with the criticism. That’s where people are? That’s their own opinion. I felt good with what we did and, shoot, we’re all in this thing together and I trust our guys.”

Beginning with relative minutiae: Two flags were thrown (one declined) in Miami for illegal formations, in both cases for leaving the right tackle uncovered. A delay-of-game penalty on a second-and-3 at the Miami 44, led to a punt when the offense only made up seven of the resulting eight yards. That sloppiness pointed to issues on the sideline rather than in the huddle.

On multiple occasions coach Matt Nagy strongly defended Trubisky during training camp when interceptions occurred, the coach considering those acceptable temporary losses in the greater quest for his quarterback learning to stay aggressive in learning his limits and capabilities.

Yet in more than one situation Sunday, it was Nagy who dialed back the aggressive edge that he’s spoken of seeking to install in his quarterback and team. It left at least a small question as to whether Nagy lacked confidence in himself or his quarterback or his team to deliver in a critical moment.

Did Nagy second-guess himself the morning after? “Nope.”

Shaky confidence?

Whether the Bears were properly prepared coming into Sunday was an issue. A team on a three-game high came out of an off week with its poorest first-half performance of the season.

But it is what happened, or didn’t happen, later that warrants the some scrutiny.

As in: Nagy’s playcalling with the game there for the winning – the overtime possession starting from the Chicago 20, needing only a field goal for a win.

The point is not second-guessing a specific call or calls, but rather what may be at work with Nagy’s overall thinking and propensities.

After a short, high-percentage throw to Trey Burton on first down, Nagy called five straight runs. The first two, runs of 19 and 15 yards by Jordan Howard, worked. Howard went out for a two-snap break, then was back for a final run on third-and-4, which failed, leaving the ball at the Miami 35, Nagy’s minimum for attempting a field goal.

Beyond the obvious conservatism, the overall put the Bears in position of not only needing to convert a 53-yard field goal, but also leaving the Dolphins with field position at their 43 if the kick missed, which it did, although NFL kickers convert from 50-plus yards at a rate approaching 62 percent.

“To me, that 35-yard line [was the minimum], a 53-yard field goal, I have ultimate trust in [kicker Cody Parkey] making that,” Nagy said. “But at the same time, every yard that you get brings the percentage up a little bit.

“We just hit a [19]-yard run, we just hit a 15-yard run, and then we had a couple more runs right behind that. That’s just the decision we ended up making. Now, [if] he makes that kick and we’re good. He doesn’t and it’s ‘could you get a little bit closer?’ It would have helped, but at the same time I think Cody would be the first to tell you that he knows he can make that.”

One problem: Were Nagy’s defense playing at the level it had in the three previous games, he could be excused for trusting his defense to deliver a stop even with the Miami starting point. But the Dolphins had pushed the defense backwards for 344 total yards over the prior six possessions. There should have been no reasonable expectation that the defense, which already had driven backward 74 yards before a fumble on the first overtime possession, would suddenly rise up for a stop.

Nagy’s tactics also hint a lack of convinced confidence that his quarterback and offense could pull off an aggressive, under-control possession at that point. Exactly what Nagy is likely to stay in-house. His offense had scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions of the second half, when the Bears never punted.

But Trubisky had thrown an inexplicable interception from the Miami 13 and Tarik Cohen had lost a fumble at the Chicago 45 on the fourth-quarter possessions on either side of the final Bears touchdown. So by the time the overtime possession arrived, Nagy had seen turnovers by all three principle members of his backfield – Cohen, Howard and Trubisky.

Whatever his reasoning, Nagy flashed defensive in the face of questions on his calls – “You go ahead, you throw it and then [media] are here asking me why you took a sack” – a response loosely suggests that Nagy either cares what people think (unlikely) or that he was mad at himself and/or his players (more likely).

That Nagy alluded to Trubisky taking a sack recalls sacks that the quarterback has taken that cost his team yardage before a missed field goal (Arizona) and other sacks incurred trying to force a play. Nagy sidestepped a question as to whether he would play that situation differently at such time as when Trubisky and his offense are more mature.

An erudite non-answer answer.

Fatigue factor

Running back Tarik Cohen mentioned his own failure to deal sufficiently with fatigue in Sunday’s second half, mentioned it in connection with his lost fourth-quarter fumble. Whether fatigue being allowed to reach a red-line level falls on coaches or player is debatable; players owe coaches honest self-assessments, and coaches had balanced snaps reasonably well for Cohen (34) and Howard (36) for the game.

Cohen is a young player. Nagy and most of his staff are young, and heat-management is not usually at the top of game-planning sheets. The last time (1994) the Bears played a day game in Miami, Cohen was still a year away from being born and Howard was two weeks old. Trips to Tampa the past three years don’t qualify for carryover conditioning; besides, one of the three was in December, a second in November.

But in the absence of player restraint/moderation/discretion/whatever in the face of in-game physical decline, it falls to Bears staff to monitor conditioning. The clear fall-off by the defense was more than apparent in the form of ebbing effort, missed tackles and generally flagging performance.

“I want to say that I’m not sure that our training staff and sports science staff could have done a better job in that situation,” Nagy said. “It was absolutely phenomenal. They were unbelievable, with how they handled the hydration and the cramping with our players. It was unreal. And so, that’s a credit to them for being prepared and getting our guys right.

“That was a long game. And when you play an extra period, or extra quarter in that heat, that’s a lot. For our guys to do that, that’s another part of the challenge that they battled through and that was everybody collectively — not just the players, but our staff as well.”